Differing tire strategies for Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes AMG Petronas produced a thrilling finish to Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
Pole sitter, and leader for most of the race, Sebastian Vettel started the race on super soft Pirelli tires before switching to the softs on a Lap 18 pit stop. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas started on the super softs as well, but the team put Bottas on medium compound Pirellis during their stop on lap 21.
Mercedes started Hamilton on soft tires, and he worked his way from ninth on the grid up to fourth in the first stint, which featured a thrilling three-wide pass into Turn 1, in which he passed Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez, and Fernando Alonso in one move.
Hamilton pitted on Lap 26, the team also putting him on mediums.
The differing tire strategies set up a showdown in the second half of the race, with Ferrari looking at a two-stop strategy, while Mercedes went with one stop. However, Ferrari changed their strategy following a disastrous pit stop for Kimi Raikkonen on Lap 36, in which he left early and clipped one of the crew members with the left-rear tire.
The left-rear had also been left loose on Raikkonen’s SF71H, forcing him to come to an immediate stop on the pit lane, while medical personnel tended to the injured crew member.
In terms of race strategy, Ferrari opted to call an audible to keep Vettel out the rest of the way, hoping that their soft tires would last and that Bottas and Hamilton would not catch him.
While Hamilton was a little too far back in third to catch the front two, Bottas put on a charge in the final ten laps to close right on the back of Vettel, getting within DRS range with two laps remaining.
However, despite being on better tires – Vettel’s softs had clearly gone passed their point of usefulness – Bottas could not find a way around Vettel, who did a superb job of holding Bottas at bay to take the win, his second in a row to start the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season, and on his 200th career start as well.
Bottas and Hamilton ended up second and third to complete the podium.
Behind the top three, Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly put in the best performance of his young F1 career, starting fifth and running a strong and clean race the entire way to finish an outstanding fourth, the team’s best result since Carlos Sainz Jr. finished fourth at last year’s Singapore Grand Prix.
The result earned Gasly “Driver of the Day” and set off a frantic and enthusiastic celebration for the Toro Rosso team.
Haas F1 Team’s Kevin Magnussen finished a stout fifth, rebounding from the team’s disappointment from the Australian Grand Prix, followed by Renault Sport F1 Team’s Nico Hulkenberg in sixth. The McLaren F1 duo of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne finished seventh and eighth, putting both cars in the points for the second race in a row.
Alfa Romeo Sauber F1’s Marcus Ericsson used a one-stop strategy to finish a brilliant ninth, scoring the team’s first points of 2018, while Sahara Force India’s Esteban Ocon finished 10th, also scoring the first points of 2018 for his team.
Red Bull Racing’s efforts, however, came to a disastrous halt in the early laps. Max Verstappen suffered a left-rear puncture following contact with Hamilton on Lap 2 after trying an inside pass in Turn 1 – the right-front of Hamilton’s W09 having touched the left-rear of Verstappen’s RB14 on corner exit as they battled for tenth.
Ahead of them, Daniel Ricciardo, who ran in fourth at the end of Lap 1, came to a halt just after the Verstappen contact, his RB14 suffering a sudden loss of all power, briefly forcing a Virtual Safety Car so his chassis could be removed from the circuit.
Verstappen, meanwhile, was forced to retire after incurring too much damage from his puncture.
The double DNF drops Red Bull behind McLaren to fourth in the constructor’s championship, with two races down in 2018.
Results are below. Formula 1 heads to the Shanghai International Circuit for the Chinese Grand Prix next week.